Don’t write off the Lakers just yet; they are 18-9 since the trade deadline and have a 55-win record.
LA LOS ANGELES This season, LeBron James has added a number of new accomplishments to his list of the Greatest Of All Time. He currently has the most points ever scored. He currently ranks fourth all-time in assists.
But that fifth ring, which seemed unattainable months ago, may prove to be the most significant proof, in the years to come, that LeBron did indeed surpass Michael Jordan as the greatest player in NBA history.
Having the most career goals in a sport is definitely significant in such a debate, regardless of whether you think the early February moment that sealed the deal was crucial.
And yeah, ranking fourth all-time in assists is a fascinating statistical point in and of itself. LeBron moved up the rankings just this past season, moving from ninth to fourth and passing Steve Nash, Magic Johnson, and Mark Jackson.
Those are major issues. Yet, they were anticipated. Even ten years ago, it was simple to conduct basic scratch-pad math and determine that LeBron was overwhelmingly likely to get to those positions on those all-time lists due to one of his greatest attributes: his availability.
However, the Lakers winning the NBA championship this season was never a sure thing, especially when they stumbled to a 2-10 start and got mired in turmoil, blame, and uncertainty. It would be tantalizingly more beneficial to recover from that if His Airness and King James were to argue.
LeBron’s margin to Jordan would decrease to one with a fifth championship. LeBron would receive one more than Steph Curry, which would disprove the notion that one cannot be the GOAT if they are not even the most dominant winner of their generation.
Even though it is a flimsy defense, Jordan fans, of which I am one, frequently use it to criticize those who believe LeBron is already the greatest player in history.
If LeBron, Anthony Davis, and this retooled club from after the NBA trade deadline succeed, there is something even more potent for his case: the narrative force it would evoke.
We want to believe that disagreements about who the GOAT is simply come down to the facts, and that in the end, statistics, data, and rings will prevail. However, a general coalescence of the zeitgeist in this country will be as much about the heart as the facts, as much about feel as some irrefutable case for one great player over the other, and as much about what people think as opposed to what they reason.
Jordan has a tremendous resume, of course. In addition, the mystique that has developed around him as a result of the math of six rings, six MVPs of the Finals, no Finals series losses, ten scoring titles, five regular season MVPs, etc.
It’s a desire to resemble Mike. It has a powerful aura about it. When it comes to how people remember and interpret a career like Jordan’s, films like “The Last Dance” and the newest release, “Air,” are crucial.
The majority of fans aren’t visiting Basketball Reference or creating a presentation for Sloan to learn the real story behind Jordan vs. LeBron. They are depending as much on intuition as they are on a collection of unchangeable, mathematical facts.
Which takes us to the Lakers’ current squad.
The most of us, including myself, gave up on them months ago. Even the last-minute trades that sent a frustrated Russell Westbrook packing and added D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Jarred Vanderbilt failed to persuade many of us that the Lakers were doomed to failure.
For much of the year, there was speculation that LeBron’s finest years were behind him, and with them, his chances of winning a title. March was mostly lost to him. Anthony Davis missed plenty of time as usual. It was far from certain that the Lakers would even advance to the postseason. A title seemed to be a pipe dream for the purple-and-gold team.
A seasoned all-time great pulling one more title from the depth of their abilities in the midst of such uncertainties and challenges has a strong, enduring quality. It has a certain enchantment to it, a rare grandeur, that makes achievements in their youth seem less significant in comparison.
Imagine a 43-year-old Tom Brady, who previously won the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers, doing it again. Or Rafa Nadal, who at age 36 won his 22nd Grand Slam championship last summer. Or even Steph Curry last June, when he was 34 years old, shaking off the dust and cobwebs and lowering expectations to win another championship.
There is reason to believe that LeBron can succeed this season even at the age of 38.
He and AD are in the best possible health following a demanding regular season. This new team puts on a great basketball game. And in related news, they get along well, which is a big improvement over the Westbrook period. Austin Reaves has turned out to be a really welcome surprise. One general manager recently told me that the Western Conference is the most evenly matched it has ever been.
And since the trade deadline, this Lakers club with a fresh look has been nearly as good as any other.
The Lakers’ 18-9 record, which ranks fourth in that time period, correlates to a 55-win season if a whole 82-game season were played at that level. What would this season’s West standings look like with a 55-27 record? Try first place, four games better than the Lakers’ first-round opponent, the 51-31 Memphis Grizzlies, and two games better than the 53-29 Denver Nuggets.
Only those groups have improved their records since the trade deadline.
The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks. real, credible competitors.
Therefore, the idea that the Lakers could win it all is definitely plausible. All it takes is a GOAT to summon his greatness to win one more championship, and perhaps to spark one more, unexpected, and conclusive debate between Jordan and LeBron.